Ninth-Inning Rally: Casino Commission Grants Another Extension for Golden Resorts Project

July 5, 2007 — The ninth time was the charm Thursday as the Casino Commission voted to grant developer Paul Golden another extension on his license reservation to build a hotel resort and casino.
The commission, voting unanimously in a meeting held at the commission's Orange Grove office, said a pending court decision is the main reason the project cannot move forward. Golden has struggled to begin the St. Croix-based project for more than six years.
Golden attorney Treston Moore was pleased with the vote.
"It was warranted," he said. "I am very grateful to the commission for their confidence."
Golden, based in New Jersey, is anticipating a decision from District Court in a suit filed by the V.I. Conservation Society. Last Friday, Moore said he expected the case to be heard in June, but it was not put on the calendar. The next St. Croix case hearing is scheduled for Oct. 15, but Moore said he will urge the court to hear the case when it convenes on St. Thomas in August. Moore contends that if the court rules in Golden's favor, his investors will go forward with the project.
The V.I. Conservation Society filed a suit claiming the project would harm the ecosystem at Great Pond, the proposed location of the development. The lawsuit was initiated in 2005 when the society filed a writ of review in Superior Court. It asked the court to review the Board of Land Use Appeal's decision to grant Golden a coastal-zone permit. In May, however, Judge Maria Cabret upheld the issuance of the permit. The society has appealed Cabret's decision.
A Board of Land Use Appeal hearing is scheduled for Friday on St. John. A favorable decision from the commission is a necessary prerequisite for the board hearing, Moore said.
Thursday’s meeting was continued from last Friday, when members agreed to postpone their decision because of pending travel arrangements by Golden and his attorney. (See “Another Golden Resorts Delay: Decision About Extension Postponed.”)
Community Voices
The commission heard another round of testimony from residents and letters from Golden's attorneys, who said they were "ambushed" by Traxco attorney Mark Eckard’s testimony last Friday.
"A small minority is objecting," said taxi driver Desmond Trim. "This nonsense has to stop; the development has to go on."
Commission chair Eileen Petersen emphasized that she would allow anyone who wanted to testify — for or against the project — to have their views heard. That included a fax from businessman Frank C. Pollara, who wrote that he was ready to open his Christiansted restaurant but dismayed at the obstacles businessmen face developing projects on St. Croix.
"The entire Caribbean is bursting with business, but we are in a choke hold," Pollara wrote. "Please give Mr. Golden a chance. On fortitude alone, we all know he deserves a little time."
St. Croix resident Edward L. Browne said he was speaking up for the project, "as a young Virgin Islander." Golden has shown his dedication to the project and to St. Croix, Browne said. "As long as he shows the commission he is doing his part he should be granted an extension.”
A letter from attorney Lloyd Levinson, who is a part of Golden's legal team, was read into the record by Moore. Levinson described the testimony last Friday by Traxco's attorney as a "classic ambush." Traxco's testimony was "full of falsehoods" and "groundless allegations," Levinson wrote. Traxco is trying to prevent competition and the growth of business in the Virgin Islands, and there are "no outstanding issues" regarding Golden's character, he continued.
The felony on Golden’s record occurred while he "was still a teenager" and involved the theft of baseball cards, Levinson wrote, adding that the court case filed by Golden's mother was a result of an "unfortunate split in the family."
A letter from Adriane Dudley, another Golden attorney, sparked the ire of commission members. Dudley suggested that the Traxco testimony indicated the commission was guilty of "corruption and incompetence." Petersen interrupted Moore's reading of the letter to address the point.
"We are going to get to the bottom of this," she said. "I challenge anyone to come forward and prove corruption." Developers need to have confidence in the commission, and any inference that the commission is corrupt would be detrimental to investors, Petersen said.
"I was shocked to hear that read," Eckard said when Petersen called for him to speak. Eckard assured the commissioners that his testimony did not suggest any corruption or incompetence on the part of the commission. "The letter was not intended to imply the commission was corrupt and incompetent," he said.
The Decision
Commission member Lloyd McAlpin offered the motion to extend the Golden casino license reservation for an additional six months. Member Devin Carrington seconded the motion.
Carrington said he thought "long and hard" before he made the decision to vote for an extension. Quoting from the casino law, Carrington said if an applicant shows "good cause," the commission may grant an extension. He said it was clear that Golden has complied with the commission by submitting monthly and financial reports, including contracts and copies of court documents.
As for the references to his character, Carrington said the commission will have another opportunity to review all aspects of the request for a license when Golden comes before them to request the license, which will be the final step in the process. He noted that Traxco stands to gain if the Golden project fails.
"You can't deny the fact that the demise of the project will benefit Traxco and Divi to maintain their monopoly," Carrington said.
The decision didn’t come without hesitation.
"It wasn't easy this time to make the motion to grant the extension," McAlpin said. "I was so sure everything would have been worked out, including the pending suits."
The proposed project will benefit St. Croix, McAlpin said, questioning the difficulty of bringing development to the island: "Is the curse real? Why should it take almost eight years for a project to develop for St. Croix?"
Petersen had the last word. Golden has failed to complete his financial documents, but it’s not his fault because he awaits the court’s decision, she said. Petersen agreed that Golden has completed all the commission’s requirements.
"Who will suffer if this extension is given?” Petersen asked, noting that there are no other developers vying for this reservation. "Who will benefit? There is a strong possibility the community will gain.”
Golden has impressed her "from the inception" by his association with professionals in the gaming industry, Petersen said, implying that when the brand is revealed to the public, they will be impressed, also. "We have a copy of the contract," she said.
Before adjourning the meeting, Petersen looked at Golden and said, "really and truly, let this be your last."
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